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Emmanuel Macron

French President Macron’s popularity slides amid bodyguard crisis, poll suggests

Alexandre Benalla, the former head of Macron’s security detail, was fired last week after being filmed beating a protester while off duty

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 12:23pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 10:12pm

French President Emmanuel Macron’s popularity slid to a fresh low following a scandal surrounding his former senior bodyguard, according to a wide-ranging survey on Sunday, countering a less damaging picture painted by other polls.

Macron, who came to power just over a year ago on an economic reform platform, has been mired in a furore involving his former senior bodyguard, who was caught on camera assaulting a May Day protester while off duty and wearing police gear.

Alexandre Benalla, the former head of Macron’s security detail, was fired last week but opposition leaders criticised the government’s reaction as too slow and took aim at Macron’s refusal to comment on the incident for several days.

An Ifop survey of nearly 2,000 people, published in the French weekly newspaper Journal du Dimanche on Sunday, found Macron’s popularity had slipped one percentage point from a month earlier to a new low of 39 per cent in July.

The poll showed a clear shift in opinion before and after the Benalla footage came to light on July 19, with the president’s ratings falling later in the month when they had previously appeared to improve.

Yet another survey on Saturday was more favourable to the 40-year-old former investment banker, whose popularity had taken a knock in recent months as critics described him as out of touch over policies seen as favouring the rich.

That Harris Interactive poll showed Macron’s ratings improving slightly in July, a month that was also marked by France’s World Cup soccer victory.

The Benalla scandal is set to get another airing this week in parliament, after the opposition conservative party presented a motion of no-confidence in the government.

It is very unlikely to succeed, as lawmakers from Macron’s party have a solid majority in the lower house.

Benalla was charged with gang violence after footage emerged of the alleged attack during May Day demonstrations in Paris at which he was supposed to be an observer.

However, Benalla denies he hit the young man involved after dragging him to the ground. “It was vigorous, I give you that. I’m impulsive, but I am not violent,” he said in an interview with Journal du Dimanche on Sunday.

Of Macron, whom Benalla called “the boss”, he said: “I have cordial but respectful relations with him. There was never any familiarity. I was at his service. He trusted me without knowing a great deal about me. I hope – I think – he didn’t regret it.”

Benalla described how during Macron’s successful presidential campaign he helped the candidate escape angry taxi drivers in Marseille via the roof of a building.

On arriving at the Elysée, the new president appointed Benalla to his chief of staff’s office. From that day, until he was fired just over a week ago, he accompanied Macron everywhere.

After footage of the May Day incidents emerged, Benalla said Macron took him to one side, telling him: “You’ve committed a serious fault and I’m disappointed. I feel betrayed. You are punished, it’s normal. I’ve confidence in you, but you have to accept it.”

Benalla said he offered to resign but was told there was “no point”.

“I’m treating this as yet another challenge,” said Benalla. “I know I will emerge stronger. I can live with my conscience and I know what I have done and what I haven’t done. I know there are liars and those who tell the truth.”

Additional reporting by The Guardian